August 31, 2015

August 30, 2015 - Deuteronomy 11:18-20

Sermon Podcast:

Theme: Set the Example for Christian Education
1) Prioritize, Connect, and Use God’s Word
2) Focus on the Gospel in both Failure and Success

Deuteronomy 11:18-20 “Imprint these words of mine on your hearts and minds, bind them as a sign on your hands, and let them be a symbol on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 20 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

John Wooden is perhaps the most successful basketball coach ever. During his time at the University of California in Los Angeles, Wooden’s teams set numerous records. In one stretch they won 88 consecutive games. Over the course of his career he totaled 4 undefeated seasons and 10 national championships. The next closest collegiate coach has 5 national championships. Wooden went on to write several famous books as well on the topics of coaching and leadership. There’s no doubt that he led a very full life and had a great career, the likes of which may never be seen again.

But when Wooden was asked what the key to his success was, his answer was very simple. He quoted a short poem which reads: "No written word, no spoken plea can teach our youth what they should be. Nor all the books on all the shelves, it’s what the teachers are themselves." This tiny poem encapsulated Wooden’s philosophy and the reason he gave as to why he was so successful in leading and training young men. In short, he strove to lead and teach by example.

The words of Wooden’s poem fit well with our thoughts for today, as we focus on leading our youth in the Word of the Lord. God gives us everything we need to be successful in His Word. Our children can readily pick up on that and learn what God reveals in the Bible. The same was true for all of Wooden’s players. They knew and understood the game of basketball well. The rules were clear, no one was in doubt as to how to win the game. But they needed leadership and direction. They needed someone to bring them all together and help guide them to their goal. The same is true of your children. They need Godly leaders who will help build and strengthen their faith. The best thing you can do when it comes to leading them is to set the example.

This theme is presented immediately as our text begins. As the LORD prescribed His charge to the leaders and parents in Israel, He began by having them look first at their own hearts. Imprint these words of mine on your hearts and minds, bind them as a sign on your hands, and let them be a symbol on your foreheads. Only after you have first taken care of your own heart can you extend God’s truth to others by teaching. This includes your children. You will not be equipped to help them if you have not first reinforced your own faith through studying and learning from God’s Word. There’s a simple progression to this in verse 28. First, you imprint God’s Word in your heart and mind. The idea of “imprinting” carries the thought of prioritizing. When you imprint something, you order it as the most important thing in your life. Whatever you imprint in your heart and mind becomes the standard by which you measure all other things. As parents and leaders, you must imprint God’s Word on your heart and mind. It must be the first in order of all things in your life.

The second thought is that you “bind the Word as a sign on your hands.” This is where we see the thought of leading by example. Once your heart and mind are in the right place, your actions will follow, and others, especially your children, will see this. The word “bind” carries the thought of connection. When you bind something to something else, they are connected and are looked at as one. This is to be your relationship with God’s Word. You are to be so connected to it that it flows through your heart, mind, and hands seamlessly.

The final thought of the verse centers on moving forward and using these gifts. The Holy Spirit uses the unique illustration of letting the Word be on your forehead. It’s often said that your eyes are the windows to your soul. This is essentially what the Spirit is trying to tell us here. What you focus on with your eyes has a major role in determining where you go and what you follow in life. If your eyes are turning toward sinful things, you will follow a sinful path. The command from God is that you use His Word to guide your way. Place it figuratively on your forehead, so that your eyes focus on it at all times. Whenever you look at something, see it and understand it through the lense of God’s Word.

The responsibility that you have as a mature Christian is simple and clear. Prioritize, Connect, and Use. God’s Word must be the first in order in your life. You must bind that Word to your life, and you must be directed by that Word wherever you go and in whatever you do. This is God’s command for you in your personal faith life but also as you share that faith with others. Only after these three steps are in order are you ready and prepared to teach that same Word to others.

Of all the people that we strive to teach God’s Word to, there is one group in particular that the Spirit singles out – our children. Your task as a parent, leader, and Christian begins with your children. But this isn’t solely a command for parents. The concept of children contains the broader thought of a “generation.” Even if you’re childless, unmarried, or removed from all relatives you still have the task of leading the next generation. That’s because all believers are part of God’s family. Even if you have no connection with any family members here on earth, you are never alone, and therefore never exempt from your responsibility of leadership.

This is one of the areas of Christian education that we often overlook. It is not only the responsibility of pastors or teachers to instruct. They are merely helpers along the way. Listen to the Holy Spirit’s description of the role of pastors and teachers: And He (Jesus) personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12). My job is not to be the sole distributor for Christian education to your children. My job is to equip you (the saints) for the work of ministry. Christian education begins in the home and must stay in the home. Anything that pastors and teachers can supplement is indeed beneficial, but is never meant to take the place of Christian instruction and training by parents.

And one of the best things you can do is lead by example. I can help your children understand the Bible. They can learn doctrines and passages from me and they can study the Word with me. But they will learn the most from what they see their parents do. All the head knowledge in the world will mean nothing if they do not see that knowledge put into practice as well. Hours upon hours of instruction in the classroom will become useless if that instruction is not reinforced in the home by the example of God-fearing mothers and fathers and in the congregation by their fellow members.

If no one takes the time to show them, they will choose to follow someone else’s example instead. If you don’t talk to your son or daughter about God’s Word or how that Word applies to the difficulties they face in life, they will learn from someone or something else; most likely friends, society, the world, and even other religions. You need to be the most influential voice in your child’s life or someone else will. But you also have to show them the way once they hear you. 

It does no good for your son to learn the first commandment, yet see his parents put money and possessions above God. It will do no good for your daughter to learn the 2nd commandment yet hear her parents curse and swear, through talking, emails, facebook, or even texting. It will be of no value for your child to learn the 3rd commandment, yet see mom and dad, and fellow Christians put the busyness of life above being present in church each Sunday. It will mean nothing if your child learns to love his neighbor as himself, yet sees mom and dad hold on to anger and grudges, or get impatient with a stranger. We could go on and on, down the list of God’s teachings. The task before you as a parent is not easy, that’s why God takes the time to remind you in His Word. But it’s an abundantly important task, and He stands by you ready to help and assist you through His Word, and predominantly through the Gospel of forgiveness.

We celebrate Christian education as our school begins a new academic year tomorrow and that’s fitting. Daily devotions, Bible lessons, and catechism instruction will be part of our regular schedule. Next weekend we will resume Bible Class and Sunday School. These are all parts of Christian education and we’re very thankful for them. But the biggest reminder we need is not about these programs and studies in our congregation. Christian education Sunday is a reminder for you as parents and leaders of the faith to teach God’s Word each day. It’s a call to action to prioritize, connect, and use the Gospel blessings whether in times of success or failure.

The charge from God comes out even stronger as we continue in our text. In v. 19 we are to speak of God’s Word to our children in all the changing scenes of life; when we sit, when we walk, when we lie down, and when we rise. Another illustration is used in v. 20, we are to write the Word on our doorposts and on our gates. To this day many Jews take these commands literally. They bind tiny copies of the words in our text to their foreheads. They also literally write them on their doorposts. There’s nothing wrong with doing these things, but they shouldn’t detract from deeper meaning of these words, as they have with many who practice them. God’s main point is not that we literally bind these words on our bodies and homes and all will be well. God’s point is that these locations, our foreheads, our hearts, our doorposts, and our gates represent the priorities in our lives.

For many of the Jews who practice these things literally, their faith becomes a matter of outward expressions only. The substance of their faith becomes rote memorization and rigid practice instead of a vibrant expression through actions. They start to look at themselves to fulfill God’s requirements instead of Jesus. They forget that these commands are intended to serve, not to sanctify. Because no one can ignore the sole conclusion we all reach when we read and study these words. At the end of it all we see what God commands us to do and we know that it is correct, but we fail. Time after time we are faced with our inability to follow what God wants us to do as leaders. If we are honest about our lives, we must admit that we have fallen short of these requirements, and all others that Gods gives as well.

Therefore we need something more. Keeping a tiny scroll between our eyes or etching the letters in our doorposts won’t help us out. These things only remind us of our unworthiness. Sending your kid to confirmation class or Christian day school only gets them so far. Being an upstanding citizen and a great friend does not cover the problem of sin. In order to be the best example we need God’s help. In order to truly reach His standard of righteousness something more is needed, or more appropriately, someone is needed. And that someone is Jesus. The underlying theme of Christian education is not that we focus only on the Words of God’s Law and our ability to keep some of them but not all of them. It’s that we focus on all of God’s Word. Understanding His commands for us as parents and leaders is only part of the revelation. We must also believe that Christ is our Savior, the only One who truly makes us complete before the Father.

Paul tells us in Ephesians what Christ has done for us: if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: 22 that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:21-24). Faith in Christ is not just saying something in word only. Faith changes your life. And notice how that blessing comes to your life. Paul says that you were “taught by Jesus Himself.” Jesus gives all believers the right and responsibility to teach others because He has taught them. We proclaim not only the commands and requirements of God but also the fulfillment of them through Jesus. And the result is that our once worthless lives are now changed, literally “re-created” and the new man reigns within us. Through that new man of faith in Christ, we are led to follow God’s commands to His glory and praise. That’s where we want to lead our kids in Christian education!  

Leaning on your status as Christian or your membership in church for assurance of Christian education is the same thinking that got the Jews off track. Looking only to pastors and teachers to instruct your children is the same. You must lead by example, but your lead must direct them to Christ, not yourself, and not more ways that they must keep God’s commands.

Christ has died for our sins. Through faith created by the Holy Spirit and built on this Gospel promise, our lives are changed. Part of that change is that we now have the call to be ministers of our own, agents of Christian education for the next generation. Through the newly created faith within us we are able to minister by our actions, or as we have been saying, we can lead by example. But the other part of that change is that we don’t have to keep the Law in order to have God. We have a Savior who has done it for us.

John Wooden’s poem rings true. We can have the best of teachers, and we certainly do in Jesus Christ. We can have the best of textbooks, and we certainly do in the Bible. But those things, as great and powerful as they are, can be marred and clouded by our sinful actions. Christian education is more than just something said or promised. It’s more than words memorized or doctrines taught. It’s more than Sunday school or K-8 in grace school. Christian Education is a matter of faith in Jesus Christ and the promise of an eternal life without sin with Him. Lead your children there through your example, and they will see and follow.  Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

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